Cool Papa Bell

ell was offered a chance to play for the Browns in 1951, but he turned it down; he was nearly 48 years old. He earned his nickname for his demeanor under pressure while pitching for the St. Louis Stars as a 19-year-old in 1922. A sterling fielder and an outstanding batter, what made Bell stand out more than anything else was his uncanny speed. Two exaggerated stories demonstrate the effect it had on his contemporaries. Satchel Paige often regaled audiences with the story that when he and Bell roomed together, Bell was so fast that he could turn out the light and be in bed before the room got dark. In truth, he did it one night, but only because there was a short in the wires. Another story has him hitting a ball up the middle and being struck by it as he slid into second base.

A verified story is that during an inter-racial all-star exhibition game on the West Coast, Paige laid down a bunt with Bell on first base. As catcher Roy Partee of the Indians set to throw to first, Bell brushed by him to score. By his own count, Bell once stole 175 bases in a 200-game season. The scanty statistics of the Negro Leagues credit him with several years over 400.

There is little doubt that Bell could have starred in the major leagues had there been no color ban during his prime. An unselfish man off the field and on, in 1946 (Jackie Robinson‘s first year in white organized baseball), Bell deliberately forfeited the batting title to Monte Irvin to enhance Irvin’s chance to follow Robinson to the majors. While coaching and playing with the Monarchs, Bell demonstrated to the young Robinson that he would never make it with his weak arm at shortstop. Bell, in his forties, beat out everything hit to Robinson’s right.